Religious Salesman

Their voices set my teeth on edge. I have no valid complaint against hustlers, no rational bitch, but the act of selling is repulsive to me. I harbor a secret urge to whack a salesman in the face, crack his teeth and put red bumps around his eyes.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

Do you ever feel like you’re getting “sold” on something? I felt this way a few years back, when I dated this guy named Ruben. Our first week of dating, before he asked me to be his girlfriend, he sat me down in his living room and showed me “The Plan.”

I should’ve known. Anything that has a code name like “The Plan” should raise a red flag. But I was infatuated and the sex was good.

“The Plan” was an overview of a pyramid scheme set up by Amway (at the time known as Quixtar). It was to be shown to new or prospective recruits to get them to buy in as a member for $150 a month, plus the cost of products.

Ruben’s whole goal was to make sure I would support him as he chose to attempt to “go Ruby” (a fancy way of saying you’ve reached a certain ‘level’ of  money making in the pyramid). I told him I couldn’t possibly believe in that kind of thing and I wouldn’t want to be a member, but I’d support his interest in it. Sure, sell what you want. Sell car stereos for f*ck’s sake. I don’t care.

As it turned out, Ruben wasn’t happy with my casual attitude toward his pyramid scheme. At first he was, but then he saw me as an opportunity to help him reach his goals. He could use my name to be another “leg” of his group and he could buy products for himself under that name, thus helping him reach his goals.

And then there were the requests for me to get rid of my MAC makeup and replace it with his Amway makeup like all the loyal “Diamond” wives had done. What bullsh*t. First of all, they were married. Secondly, no.

Throughout my relationship with Ruben I felt like I was constantly getting sold something. He was pushy about many things, not limited to his Amway business and he didn’t fully accept me for who I was. I was too fat for him, even though I wasn’t fat at all. I wasn’t big breasted enough, even though I was perfectly proportionate. I didn’t dress like he wanted me to, even though I dressed well.

Sometimes my entire relationship with Ruben reminds me of my relationship with the Church and the Pastors I worked for. The old saying, “Come as you are” isn’t true when it comes to religion. What they really mean to say is Come as you are so we can fix you and make you look like all the rest of us…Stepford wives and husbands.

Every Sunday is an opportunity for them to “sell you” religion, and to sell you the nonsense that you’re unacceptable as you are; that you aren’t a good enough person to “get through the eye of a needle”. Well, honestly, that’s silly–no one can fit through the eye of a needle. Thread barely can.

If there was a god, do you think he’d create people “in his own image” and then try to change them? Doesn’t something about modern Christianity just seem out of whack?

 

 

Another Master’s Commission Dream

I’m in school right now, so I have the luxury of sleeping in–until my cats decide it’s time for me to wake up. I have two cats, Boo and Molly. Molly is a kitten and she’s out of control. I’m not sure why but every morning, she decides it’s a great idea to run right over my head while I’m sleeping so she can jump for an attack at Boo’s tail.

This morning I woke up to Molly climbing on my face and realized it happened again: I had one of those dreams where I joined Master’s Commission again. 

I have these dreams every so often. It’s weird, for sure, but the dreams have been getting progressively friendlier and I’m met with less hostility than before.

I used to dream that I’d joined Master’s Commission (or come back, because we all know that they always want us to come back) and ran around warning everyone of the cult it was. Of course, that was met with much hostility so I’d be forced to leave. I’d be sad I had only warned one person and everyone else didn’t know.

A few weeks ago I dreamed I went back to Our Savior’s Church and Daniel and Maria were actually friendly toward me. This was definitely a dream. I doubt they’d be friendly to me in real life.

Last night I dreamed I rejoined Master’s Commission and there was this kid who was starting his first year of the discipleship program who looked pretty scared. I started explaining the ropes to him–the basics and the fact that he’d have no free time to just breathe so if he started getting worn out, he needed to just go escape for a few minutes and hide somewhere so he could relax. Yes, hide. He’d already noticed that he never had free time and that things were different in person than what they were on paper.

So it was with me–things were pretty perfect on paper when I was recruited into Master’s Commission. A year of my life devoted to God, becoming Super Christian with Super Christian Powers. I was going to travel the world telling people about God’s love and get a more solid foundation in my life.

When I arrived it was a different story. There were no Super Christian Powers and there wasn’t any traveling (for me, anyway). Also, what I thought was a more solid foundation in life turned out to be a modern myth–something built upon two people’s fame in the Christian Evangelical world. This wasn’t True Religion (if there is such a thing). This was True Fame and these two pastors had it.

That’s when I realized things were going to be much worse than I expected them to be.

Witchcraft as Heresy Against the Church

 

“The idea of witchcraft-as-heresy remained an element of Puritan belief for most of the century. However limited, it evidently had some impact on popular belief, since opposition to the established church was mentioned in witchcraft testimony against twenty-eight women…Their witchcraft is best understood in terms of the centuries-long tendency of Christian authorities to see their adversaries–especially their female adversaries–as witches…It was their perceived dissatisfaction with the religious system–and by extension with the religiously defined social system-that linked them to their sister witches.”

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen

Although this book discusses Colonial New England and the witchcraft trials, the thing that remains the same today is that Christian authorities still view their adversaries as performing witchcraft. They may not have the authority to hand us over to the police to be burned at the stake, but they do perceive our criticism of the church as walking with Satan, or working with him hand in hand.

 

I Feel Like You Should Know

I feel like you should know…

  • That even if you don’t have ‘faith’ anymore, you’re a pretty awesome person. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t worry about what others are going to say about you behind your back. Be who you are and those who love you for who you are will come out and show you they like you no matter what.
  • Don’t let anyone criticize you for who you are. Be proud. Wear your quirks like a yellow raincoat. If someone doesn’t like the good, healthy decisions you’re making, remove them from your life.
  • Christians can be bullies too. Don’t take shit from anyone–no matter who they say “called them.”
  • Critical thinking is winning. Walk into the murky pool of doubt, wade deeper into the unknown and swim with the questions. You’ll find that the water will become clearer the longer you’re there.
  • Just be who you are. If you don’t know, you don’t know. If you do know, then you do know. If you’re not comfortable talking about your faith or lack thereof, or questions, to others just let them know you’d like them to respect your privacy on the matter. If they don’t listen, tell them to shut the fuck up. 🙂 If you put a smiley face after it, or smile after saying it, it takes away the severity.
  • You’ve overcome a lot and you’re going to have a better life on the other side. Whatever side that is and wherever you land. You might land in a fluffy frosting-filled town of happiness (and if you do, I’d like the drugs you’re on, please). You might land back in reality where shit sucks and life happens and you’ve got bills to pay. Just remember, wherever you land, after we go through dark times in life, we’re very strong people. If you’re not there yet–you’re still in the dark times–it’s ok. You’re stronger than you think you are.  You’ll make it. Life will be good again.

 

 

Alternate Endings to Marriage

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my lovely soul sister, Abby. We did the LA thing–Los Feliz, Weho and the Grove. We went to Palermo’s for pizzarosa and wine and wandered next door to Skylight Books. Of course we ended up in the Gender Studies/Erotica section, because I’m convinced all surviving cult members are interested in these subjects. Or, maybe just us.

We found a really helpful salesperson who actually recommended two books to us. One is Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. The second book was The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti. I bought both of them and put a few more of her recommendations on my list of books to buy. She said we both needed to read The Ethical Slut, and I was really intrigued by the book. It seemed like a guide to being honest, respectful and healthy while still being able to get the pleasure you want out of life.

Do you see a correlation between all these titles? Sex and the young woman.

Sexual women are often labeled whore, tramp, slut by men and other women. But as Abby and I had dinner later, we talked about how our culture really pushes people into marriage, deeming it important, but marriage is just an exchange of property. Women have always been considered the property. Sexual women who don’t need to be married to have healthy, fulfilling relationships aren’t really accepted in our culture. And if we do carry out these relationships as satisfied people, we still find ourselves getting caught up in societies pressure to get married or to be the norm.

Lately, I’ve been going through this “I want to get married” stage. I feel like it’s the one last Christian trait that’s holding on for dear life. Marriage is definitely pushed by the Christian church. Alternative lifestyles or stories are discouraged and banished from the church. You can’t be say bi-sexual or transgendered without being banished from the church. Or in an open relationship. Or an ethical slut.

I’ve left the church and Christianity, though, and I’m just waiting for my mind to catch up. I’m ready to embrace some alternate paths for happiness besides marriage and babies. I’m embracing that now, in a way, but my mind hasn’t quite made the leap. There’s still the big “What will people think?” question that always stops me temporarily. It’s a struggle for me to dismiss that, but I eventually do because I’ve found it’s more important to be myself and be happy than it is to impress people I don’t give a shit about.

Lukewarm Christians and Infidels

The other day an old friend of mine posted a scripture on his Facebook wall about not being lukewarm or God will spit you out. It got me thinking quite a bit.

For starters, I was always a very “passionate” Christian. I’d hear a verse like that and do whatever I could in my power to be “hot” for Jesus (sounds kinky, right?). I didn’t like the idea of being cold for anything. That’s one of the reasons I decided to attend a year of Master’s Commission (which turned into 7). I thought it would make me a better Christian.

But, now that I’m not a Christian, what am I? Am I “hot” (read: passionate) about something else? Am I “cold”? Will God spit me out of his mouth?

How I always looked at that verse was a way to claim my superiority over another Christian. I was judgmental. Very. I was pious and perfect and looked down on anyone who failed to get it right. When I decided to follow the rules of Christianity, I excelled in following them and attending Master’s Commission only made me more cocky.

Some people call that legalistic. Some people call it fundamentalism. What’s interesting though, is that was preached to me, so I wasn’t just becoming legalistic on my own terms. I was being taught to have moral superiority over those who weren’t as passionate about God as I was.

That moral superiority carries over into other religions. Osama Bin Laden wrote a letter to the Jihadists saying that the Western world (and those who were not passionate enough as Muslims) were infidels. An infidel means one without faith. Bin Laden encouraged attacks on people who were without faith, or who didn’t have strong enough faith.

Christianity and Islam are very similar. Their holy texts call for extremism in cases like this. Yes, you can interpret the Bible or the Koran more liberally, but it’s no surprise why people interpret verses in either to claim a moral superiority over those who aren’t religious enough.

As for me, I’m not hot or cold, or lukewarm. I just no longer believe in Christianity as a powerful, righteous force.

It’s Okay Not to “Know”

There are some people you’ll meet in life that just KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God, gods. They’ll convince you that they have hard evidence and proof and “experiences” to show you that there is a god.

But, really, it can’t be proved and we all know it. If there is a heaven or hell (I don’t believe there is one. I think it’s a fear tactic), wouldn’t we likely not have proof of that until we die?

Oh, yeah, except that the “bible” is the word of god breathed from his mouth?

Not likely. Most documents are drafted, edited, and rewritten; sometimes using many contributors.

Anyway, I’m getting off track.

The point of this blog post is this: it’s OKAY to not know everything about what you believe in or don’t believe in.

Say you just left a cult, like I did about five years ago. You’re probably going through a wide variety of emotions and probably rethinking virtually everything that happened there and how those people you were in the cult with treat you now.

If you’re rethinking things, that’s a good sign. It’s healthy. It means, you’re learning from your past experiences and turning it into wisdom, in my opinion.

It may take years for you to come to terms with what you do and don’t believe in. You might be more lenient and understanding toward others. You might miss the community of church, but abhor the judgmentalism that exists there.

So what if you end up an atheist at the end of your “I-don’t-know” phase? So what?! Atheists aren’t bad and they’re not baby killers. They’re “god less” but not godless.

So what if you end up Buddhist? Hmm…you may just end up to be far more moral and caring than some of us are. Not to mention more zen. 🙂

So what if you still end up going to charismatic churches? No big deal. I’m sure some of your views have changed and you’re not going to be duped or suckered anymore. Smile! 🙂 That’s good news.

What if you just don’t know and don’t care? I personally think that’s a great place to be.

Belief and spirituality (or the lack of) aren’t about labels, in my opinion. Just be who you are and surround yourself with positive people. From there…enjoy life free from worry and oppressive dogma.

 

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.